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Bob Cunningham

Year Joined MKLM:

Country: El Salvador

Town: El Zaite, Zaragoza

Ministry: Patronato Lidia Coggiola community center

Ministry Area: Education and Leadership Training

Goal of Ministry: To accompany and support the education and empowerment of the people in the El Zaite community, particularly children, adolescents and women.


Ministry Context:

Settled by refugees after the country’s civil war, the El Zaite community has limited access to essential resources for living – food, water, and electricity. The area is gang-controlled, and the people live under the constant threat of violence. Nationwide statistics illustrate the educational and employment needs and challenges: roughly 34% of children do not attend the elementary grade levels; more than 60% of children do not finish high school; and approximately 20% of the population above the age of 10 are illiterate. Available jobs traditionally do not pay a living wage, have unsafe conditions and require long hours. Child labor is prevalent within poorer communities, with 1.8 million children currently employed (see Borgen Project).


Bob with the Tú Decides teen group at Patronato Lidia Coggiola in El Zaite, El Salvador

Current Ministry:

Liz and I are assisting with the many programs that El Patronato offers the community, including the Women’s Collective, the After-School Reinforcement (Refuerzo) program, and the Tú Decides (You Decide) teen group.

Our day-to-day work varies widely, for example: helping children with their homework and organizing recreational activities; participating in workshops with the teens and hosting English conversation sessions at our house while engaged in activities such as cooking and yoga; making chocolate that is sold to support the Women’s Collective; planning events and programs; organizing and distributing food supplies to families in the community; planting and maintaining the community garden while teaching the children about the environment and nutrition; and participating in workshops with other nonprofit organizations.

In addition to working in El Zaite, we sometimes attend Sunday Mass at Mariona Prison outside of San Salvador and are looking for opportunities to serve in prison ministry there as needed.


Personal Data:

Bob grew up on Long Island, New York, where he met his future wife, Liz. Bob and Liz raised their three children in the Boston area.

After serving in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in California, Bob began his career in advertising in New York City and went on to work in higher education, holding senior positions in advancement at New York University, Harvard Law School, Boston College and Northeastern University. Following his career in higher education, Bob helped launch The Jesuit Collaborative, a spiritual ministry of the Jesuits, and worked with PIVOT, a global health organization operating in Madagascar. Immediately prior to joining Maryknoll Lay Missioners, Bob served on the board of the Ignatian Volunteer Corps and worked with the staff to develop a professional advancement operation. Bob is a former chair of Concord Prison Outreach and a recipient of the Massachusetts Department of Corrections Volunteer of the Year Award. Bob has a bachelor’ degree in political science from Holy Cross College, a master’s in history from New York University, and he trained in spiritual direction at Boston College School of Theology and Ministry.

Bob’s inspiration for joining Maryknoll Lay Missioners comes from his engagement with Ignatian spirituality and the Spiritual Exercises, and the examples of discipleship shared by his family, friends, teachers and spiritual directors, most especially: his parents, Robert and Patricia Cunningham; his wife, Liz; and his uncle, Maryknoll Father Bob Lilly.